Completely non-running related

So my daughter has this homework and I don't know the answer but there are lots of clever people on the forum so I thought I would throw it into the melting pot.

The questions come from her RE class and they are:

1. Why is it important for people to have a first name?
2. Why is it important for other people to know what your first name is?

Weird huh? Any help much appreciated - I have no clue!


  • Yikes, Martin, what strange questions they ask! When I was a lass, RE meant Bible stories and moral debates - I suppose political correctness has put a stop to that so they have to go for tangential stuff.

    It's not important for people to have a first name (Brazilian footballers seem to manage perfectly well without) and it's not important for other people to know what your first name is - in fact, if they're call centre (or sports centre) staff it's better that they don't, or they use it to create a false sense of goodwill.

    The best thing about first names is that they give parents the ultimate means of saddling their children with an embarrassing label to carry through life. On the other hand, the choosing of the first name causes endless family conflict - I still haven't been forgiven by my mother for blowing a raspberry to the "family tradition" (rubbish - mine isn't the sort of family that has traditions) by which the maternal grandmother should choose the first grandchild's first name and give it her own first name as a second name. I've stuck firmly to the practice that the only person who gets to name the baby is the one who gives birth to it.

    If your daughter is under about 10 years old, chances are all they want is that first names distinguish us from our brothers and sisters and it's important for people to know our first names because it's still bad manners in most social circles to call people by their surnames.

    Cheers, V-rap.
  • Hello Martin,

    Wierd question but here's my take...

    A lot of societies use a patronymic system for part of the name. i.e. taking the name of the father as part of the middle or surname. The idea of a first name as far as I can gather would be to distinguish different members of the family. In a christian society, as you know, they are called christian names where children were most often named after saints or biblical characters (sometimes one and the same). In Jewish society, biblical names seem the norm, in Islamic society there are similar religious coonotations, and so on. I guess this is why the question has come up in RE.

    The importance of having one is maybe to attemt to bind you into that religious ethic and continue the line in that religion.

    The importance of someone knowing your first name is less clear, except maybe as Vrap says as a social, good manners thing.

    All the best,

  • There's no wonder the A level pass rate is so high ! They're practically giving them away. What is it 10 points for putting your name on the exam paper.

    Anyway here's my two penneth. I suppose it's like an address. The family unit is known by it's surname , in my case that would be Bobolink and then the individuals within that unit are further subdivided by first names like Montmerentsi Bobolink. A way of pinpointing the individual. Imagine if all the Smiths or Patels did not have first names, we would be in a right pickle !!

    So it's important for people to have a first name so that they can be identified in the family unit and in the wider social gathering and it's important for people to know your first name so that you can be correctly identified within that unit.

    I'm sure there will be deeper anthropological explanations though and elsewhere in the world there may be differences.
  • Coco-CatCoco-Cat ✭✭✭
    I suspect that part of the answer here is to do with the importance of personal recognition. As human beings we respond much better if people know our first name and address us by it. We are marked out as being 'unique' by our first name. As a 'teacher' in higher education, I know that the best way to get responses from my students is to learn their names and address them by them in class. (Difficult when classes are sometimes 250 big). It makes them feel as though I am interested in them personally and they are not just another one of the masses.

    If you think about it, in most of the major conflicts in the world prisoners of any kind are usually given a number instead of being addressed by their name. The effect of this is to dehumanise them and make any ill treatment of them much more justifiable, as they are no longer seen as fellow creatures.

    Hope that helps a bit!
  • Thanks all for taking the time to respond.

    I would agree key points so far:

    1. There is a Christian link - particularly that (especially historically) each "christian" name had a meaning such as "rock" or "walks with angels" etc etc......errr not sure that applies if your name is Wayne (apologies to anyone called Wayne).

    2. Its an important social delineation i.e. the "smith" point - it differentiates us from our siblings.

  • Heres an A level Question for you Mr. Golf club... Theres a pencil thats 20cm long and a pencil thats 10cm long.... Which is the longest?

    PS. When I did my A levels they were still rather challenging!
  • BarklesBarkles ✭✭✭
    Ha, deep stuff.
    I suspect that what the teacher who set the question is after is the differnce in role between given name and familiy name.

    family name seems to have clan/ tribe purposes - ie 'which bunch does this kid belong to' - and can in some societies give all kinds of clues as to ancestry.

    Given name is the personalised bit ' I know it was a Jones, but which one?' the way we tell each other apart in our family groups.

    Thus our identity is made up of being an individual, clearly identifiable, but coming from a group.

    I suggest this is a micro-cosm of society itself. Isn't that what living in a community is- being a individual but belonging to a community. Not too long ago the place you came from or the work you did was used as the 'surname' eg Geoffry of Monmouth, John Cooper etc.

    Surely A grade stuff. Hope it helps mate.
  • Taking the "Wayne" theme up, first names (certainly in the ethnically white British population) act as an approximate signal of our age and social class, or our parents' aspirations. There aren't many five-year-old Ednas or 90-year-old Chloes around.

    It doesn't always work, though. From my first name, most Brummies would assume that I was second generation African Caribbean, and as far as I am concerned, Winston Smith in "1984" will always be a black man just because of his first name.

    Cheers, V-rap.
  • In Iceland, past and present, first names are the important ones (catalogues such as the phone book are all listed by first name), as everybody gets a patronymic as a last name, and women don't change their last name upon marriage. So, if you have a family of two parents, and a son and daughter, they will all have different names. Hence, the importance of first names.

    OK, so I know it's kind of random, but hey it's interesting.

    What about Chinese names? You have the family name, then the generation name, and then your own name. Others have mentioned a religious link, but since Abrahamic religion in China originates from outside influence, their naming practices probably stem from other (still, perhaps religious?) concepts.

  • Hildegard

    Are you studying theology?

    What a patronymic?
  • Hi MartinH,

    I work on medieval English/Old Norse, particularly women in religious texts, so I learn things about theology when it's useful. Which turns out to be all the time.

    A patronymic is simply a last name that comes from the father's first name. So, in the Icelandic context, if a man called Jon has a father calle Thorstein, Jon's full name would be Jon Thorsteinsson. Jon's daughter Thora would be Thora Jonsdottir, and Jon's son Njal would be Njal Jonsson.

    In some countries (Hungary?), they use a matronymic system (basing the last name on the mother's first name).

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